PITTSBURGH — With his 36-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, his 68th career touchdown and 67th career TD reception, Rob Gronkowski tied Stanley Morgan for the most touchdowns overall and most touchdown receptions in Patriots history.
On third and 7, Tom Brady threw a vertical route down the seam that Gronkowski caught easily against a single defender.
“It was just a play where there was a split safety and I just had a little bender to go right up the middle,” Gronkowski said. “A little seam route that bended between the split safety, and I just had a good look. And Tom threw the ball perfectly, right on the money for me to make the play and I just had to run, give a little move and run full speed.”
The score put the Patriots up by a touchdown. They would have led by 8 had Stephen Gostkowski not missed an extra point, but it put them back up by a full score after the Steelers had closed within a point at 14-13.
“Finally it got to that third down with Gronkowski and he just ran through the middle of the defense,” Brady said. “Looks like they lost track of him for a little bit. He made a great catch. It was a big score for us.”
With the catch, Brady and Gronkowski have teamed up for 66 touchdowns, the second most for a quarterback-tight end tandem in NFL history. They trail the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who have connected 79 times.
Brady and Gronkowski also moved into sole possession of seventh place all-time for a QB-receiver tandem, breaking a tie with the Bills’ Jim Kelly and Andre Reed.
Gronkowski is only in his seventh year with Brady, while Morgan played from 1977-89 with the Patriots, so he is well on his way to the top spot in the franchise record books.
Perhaps no kicker in the NFL has been more reliable than Gostkowski since he succeeded Adam Vinatieri in 2006, but the former All-Pro hasn’t been the model of consistency this season.
His struggles continued at Heinz Field as he missed another extra point after Gronkowski’s touchdown catch gave the Patriots a 20-13 lead in the third quarter. It was his second missed PAT of the season to go along with three missed field goals (9 of 12).
“This is my 11th year doing it, [and] right now I just stink,’’ Gostkowski said. “And I need to figure out how to get better. It’s just not working out. But I’m going to hold my head high, keep working hard and doing the best I can as long as they give me the opportunity.’’
Despite his inaccuracies, Gostkowski insists that he still wants to have the pressure kicks late in the game.
“I always want to help the team win, I’m not scared to screw up,’’ he said. “I’ve screwed up plenty of times in my career, and it’s kind of piling on right now. In my position, you only get so many opportunities, and part of it mentally is taking advantage of the opportunities you get.’’
Bill Belichick said he hasn’t lost confidence in his kicker.
“Nobody works harder than Steve,’’ Belichick said. “Steve’s a very talented player. He’s mentally tough. He’s a good football player. We’ll work through it. Again, this is a tough place to kick. I’m not making any excuses. The kicker on the other side of the field had trouble, too [Chris Boswell missed a 42 yarder and a 54-yarder], but we have to hit them.”
Like the closer who blows the save, Gostkowski acknowledges that “there’s no hiding when you screw up, that’s just part of it. You have to just roll with the punches. If there was one thing I could point to to fix it, I would have done it by now. I just need to be better.”
“Obviously there’s something going on, and I’m going to work hard to fix it.’’
Julian Edelman took advantage of the coverage on tight ends Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett and torched linebacker Lawrence Timmons underneath with 9 receptions on 10 targets (60 yards). Surprised the Steelers D didn’t adjust? “You just have to react to what they give you,’’ Edelman said. “That’s the luxury of having other guys that are good. You never know.
“They were playing zone the whole game. We knew we just had to dink and dunk and wait for them to suck up and get one deep, Gronk had a big play, LG [LeGarrette Blount] ran the ball very well. We had a couple of turnovers that we’re going to have to hear about [Edelman lost a fumble on a punt return early in the fourth quarter]. Any time you turn the ball over on the road in a place like this you put yourself in a tough situation, but we were able to overcome it.’’
Video: A few thoughts on the Patriots-Steelers game
As he pledged last week, Belichick ditched the Microsoft tablet in favor of the old-fashioned pen and paper . . . The Steelers faithful welcomed their old friend Blount with a series of boos. It didn’t seem to hurt his feelings, however, as he helped turn the Terrible Towels into crying towels with 127 yards rushing and two touchdowns . . . Chris Hogan fumbled on a 12-yard reception on the Patriots’ first possession and wasn’t seen again until 14:40 remained in the half . . . The suddenly nimble Brady picked up two third-down conversions in the first half with his quick feet . . . It was a tough day for special teams ace Brandon Bolden, who had a costly drop on third and 7 in the second quarter (there was plenty of daylight ahead) and a rare miscue on punt coverage as he failed to down Ryan Allen’s kick inside the 10, allowing the ball to roll into the end zone for a touchback . . . The Patriots have yet to throw an interception through the first seven games, extending a team mark to start a season. The old mark was in 2015, when the Patriots didn’t throw a pick in the first four games. The team record for most consecutive games at any time without an interception is eight, set in 2010.
After a lengthy outage, Boston-area CBS affiliate WBZ-TV (Channel 4) said Sunday afternoon that service for DirecTV and Charter subscribers was restored in time for the Patriots-Steelers game.
It also said it was continuing to address service issues for other viewers.
For further developments on this story, click here.
Sean Smyth of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @NoraPrinciotti. Scott Thurston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeThurston.